Why mobile app usage is gaining--and web consumption is waning

Jason Ankenyeditor's corner

Consumers purchased roughly 800 million PCs between 1981 and 2000, according to IDC data. By comparison, subscribers have activated more than 500 million iOS and Android smartphones just since 2007, reports app analytics firm Flurry--and at the current pace, activations will shatter the 1 billion barrier by the end of 2012. So it's no surprise that the gap between mobile application usage and web consumption continues to grow. Seven months after Flurry first reported that daily time devoted to mobile app access exceeds time spent surfing the web across both the desktop and mobile devices, the firm reveals that that the average smartphone user now spends 94 minutes each day immersed in mobile apps (up from 81 minutes in June 2011), while time spent browsing the Internet totals 72 minutes (a two-minute decline). 

Flurry analysis indicates that users even appear to be using applications in lieu of corresponding websites, theorizing that apps are more convenient to access throughout the day. In particular, consumers are shifting their Facebook activity from the desktop to mobile: In June 2011, the average Facebook user spent more than 33 minutes per day on the social network's website--that number has now fallen below 24 minutes. "Nielsen recently reported that Facebook is the most used app on Android among 14-44 year olds, surpassing usage of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) own native, pre-installed apps," writes Flurry senior marketing manager Charles Newark-French on the firm's blog. "Additionally, Facebook Messenger became the top downloaded app, at least one time during 2011, across more than 100 different App Store countries. In the U.S., the largest App Store market, Facebook Messenger ranked as the top overall app across most of the holiday week, during which more downloads occur compared to any other week."

That's good news for Facebook--and distressing news for Google and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). "With Facebook's recent push into HTML5 with Project Spartan, where apps built for Facebook's platform can run on top of the Facebook Messenger app, instead of requiring the user to launch the iOS app equivalent, this poses a disintermediation challenge to Apple," Newark-French states. "As Apple and Google continue to battle for consumers through the operating system and devices, Facebook is demonstrating that it can leverage its hold over consumers at the software level, through the power of the social network, across multiple platforms." Flurry adds that games make up 49 percent of time users spend consuming mobile apps, followed by social networking at 30 percent--in other words, what people like do most on mobile, they can do entirely on Facebook. No matter whether it's on the desktop, a smartphone or a tablet, Facebook is a force that cannot be denied--and, increasingly, a platform developers should consider essential to their own growth and ambitions.--Jason